David Heinemeier Hansson

May 12, 2023

That underdog DNA

Jason just penned a beautiful, succinct ode to the underdogs. Go read it.

It's funny how finding just the right word unlocks the perfect mental image. We've often thought of ourselves as being in the corner of the small business, but that was never quite right. There are many kinds of small businesses, not all of them thinking of themselves as underdogs. But for the ones who do, those are our people.

What I love most about underdogs is how they can't help having something on the line. As Nassim Taleb would say, they have skin in the game. And it's incredible what kind of difference that makes. The easiest way to solve the agent-principle problem is to skip the agent, at least at the top.

That's why "small" never really did capture our audience or our allegiance either. 37signals isn't even technically a small business any more. We're just under eighty people. We've got over a hundred thousand customers. We have cloud bills in the millions, and revenue many times that. But we sure as hell are underdogs. Fierce and feisty ones.

There's a deep bond in that attitude. The people who connect the most with our writing, our books, our process, our tools, and our offerings usually share that underdog DNA. They might not always be as bold about it as we frequently are, but they're thinking it, and they appreciate when we give those thoughts a strong voice in the public sphere.

As Jason writes, being an underdog is an ethos: Drive. Grit. Scrappiness. Independence. Those as the signals, but they're also often dimmed by fear, doubt, and uncertainty. Are we going to make it? Will the big dogs eat our lunch? What's the next move? Helping to allay those sentiments, and encouraging someone to keep on, is what continues to give me the spark to stick with it twenty years in.

Underdogs stick together. We're making Basecamp for them.

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.